Friday, March 31, 2006
Taming of the Duke is actually my 10th book but (some of you may be glad to know) Pleasure for Pleasure (coming out November 28th) is merrily making its way through copy-editing and proofing.
So I thought I'd blog today on writing sex. After all, this is at once, often the favorite part of a reader's experience of a given book -- and the hardest part of a writer's experience of that same book. In fact, in my years in publishing, I've heard plenty of multi-published authors explain their change of genre by noting that they were tired of describing Tab A's exquisite, incredible, screamingly appropriate fit into Tab B. And -- make no mistake about this -- virgins are hard to write about. Every time you read a good virgin-sex-scene, make me two promises: 1) remember your own experience, and if yours was screamingly wonderful, ask your best friend about hers, and 2) send silent applause in the direction of the author. The truth is that writing variations of "What is that? Oh me! It will never fit!" takes a special skill that is akin to rocket science and should never be underestimated.
Even without the virgin issue, sex scenes do dwindle into a question of tabs and moans unless (to my mind) the scene itself is integral to one of the characters' development. In Taming of the Duke, I had it easy. Imogen is a widow, so no "Oh that's too big for me!" business was necessary. But she was feeling her way into life after Draven, and realizing that she wanted to engage with men in a very different way than she had with her husband. That fact had to become part of any intimacies, or (to my mind) I had lost a brilliant possibility. On the other hand, you can't simply freeze the picture and have a lot of interior monologue in which the heroine suddenly realizes that...whatever. A sex scene has to sweep the reader up and carry her along with feverish excitement -- it can't stop for ruminations!
Here's how I did it in Taming:
"How would a bird of paradise behave?" Imogen asked.
"An old-fashioned term for one as sophisticated as you," he said, sounding amused. "A bird of paradise would do precisely what would make her partner the happiest: and that would likely include a lively show of enthusiasm."
"Oh." It wasn't very specific.
"But perhaps you're more interested in a baggage than a bawd? Because a bold girl, a naughty girl, a woman who was in this bed for the pleasure not the profit, would make absolutely certain that she did precisely what she wanted to in order to increase her own pleasure."
"She wouldn't give a damn about her partner. Let the man take care of himself."
That's the crucial bit of dialogue-- for the effect, you have to read the scene yourself *grin*
That little conversation (and Imogen's thought process) changed the whole complexion of her whole participation in the evening... and made it quite delicious in my point of view!
Tell me a sex scene you remember in which characters learned something -- about themselves, about the process, about their partner. Let's talk great sex!
Thursday, March 30, 2006
TERESA REDISCOVERS KIEFER SUTHERLAND: FROM BAD BOY TO GOOD MAN IN ONLY 24 HOURS
What can I say? I never could resist a man who can make a kill shot to the head with 100% accuracy. I came late to 24. Last year my minister's wife loaned me the entire first season on DVD and insisted that I watch it. Still feeling the keen absence of former favorites like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Farscape, I slipped the first disc into my DVD player and immediately found myself immersed in the dark and dangerous world of CTU (Counter-Terrorist Unit) and its resident knight in tarnished armor Jack Bauer. After only a few addictive episodes, I also made an alarming discovery—I was hot for Kiefer!
That's right. The same baby-faced, sandy-haired Kiefer I had always scorned for taking men's roles like Doc Spurlock in Young Guns and Athos in The Three Musketeers and turning them into boys. His chilling turns as villains in several movies hadn't really endeared him to me either. But as I watched one episode after another of 24, his beard-stubbled cheeks and that tender petulant mouth of his began to look imminently more kissable. A scene from last week's episode where he was forced to interrogate the woman he loves, then took a taser blast to try to protect her because he believed she was innocent nearly made me swoon in the best romance novel tradition!
Quite simply, Jack Bauer is a man who does what needs to be done, however brutal, to get the job done. The cavewoman in me who still secretly longs for a man to protect me, feed me, and give me strong children responds to this on the most primal level. But the lovely thing about Jack is that he also maintains enough heart and humanity to resist a direct order from the president if that order will result in the death of innocent women and children. In the course of the last five seasons, he's risen above incalculable personal losses with unimaginable grace.
24 delivers a walloping dollop of edge-of-your-couch-cushion suspense but story never overshadows characterization and emotion. To me, that's what separates a Lord of the Rings from the latest sterile and heartless installment of Star Wars.
We've been talking a lot lately about flawed, complex men who are transformed into heroes--Sebastian in Lisa's DEVIL IN WINTER; Rafe in Eloisa's THE TAMING OF THE DUKE. Jack Bauer is such a hero--constantly challenging himself, constantly evolving and always able to make the kill shot. He can interrogate me any day!
So has this ever happened to you? Have your perceptions of an actor ever been changed by a single role? And what's the one show on TV right now that you WILL NOT MISS?
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
LISA ROCKS AND RULES!!!
No, this pic isn't a provocative sexual metaphor. It's a cyber-bottle of bubby that we're cracking open in honor of our very own Lisa and her devoted readers.
Thanks to you, DEVIL IN WINTER has just appeared for the FOURTH WEEK on the New York Times bestseller list. Last week it was #8 and this week it's...(drum roll please!)... #7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Go Lisa and DEVIL IN WINTER!!! You do us all proud!
The State (Columbia, S.C.) is running a review of TAMING of the DUKE this week. Here's how it opens:
"Eloisa James doesn't shy away from a challenge. In the third book of her Essex sisters series, she matches a character portrayed in the first two books as selfish, whining and overbearing with a slovenly drunkard with a pot belly."
When I began to read the first paragraph I got that "Alert! Alert!" siren sound that an author gets when they start to read a bad review. It's the kind of alert that I imagine you'd feel in a sinking submarine: RUN! -- quickly followed by, EEEk! Nowhere to Run!
A second later I calmed down and realized I was being complimented. I got to the end of the review and discovered that the reader really loved the book (grin). And then, finally, I realized that the reviewer had gone straight to the heart of something I deeply believe as a writer: you must continue to challenge yourself. If in your very deepest soul, you're not a little unsure that your heroine and hero can grow and learn enough to be together, then your readers won't be unsure either.
And if your reader's not unsure...what's the point of reading? The deliciousness of a romance is knowing that a certain couple will fall in love (because it's a romance) but being unsure that they will really overcome the odds to get together. Without uncertainty, the reading experience would be like reading a mystery in which it turns out the dead guy just fell down a stairs and there was no murderer. Talk about a let-down! If my hero and heroine are perfectly balanced, rational and rich people who adore each other from page one...why keep reading? They'll be in bed by page eleven, and you'll be asleep, with the book falling from your fingers and landing on the floor. For me, the challenge is everything in a romance, perhaps because I consider myself just as much a reader as a writer.
So I have a two part question: Is there any part of your job in which you have to dive into the unknown, unsure whether it will "all work out"? And, as a reader, which romance have you read lately that made you the MOST unsure that things would actually work out?
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Eloisa on the Pleasures of Cinderella
Even now, years later, Cinderella stories are at the heart of many of my favorite romances. Think of our own Teresa's Once an Angel, when Emily transforms herself from a waif to a gorgeous young lady who swirls around the ballroom while Justin watches moodily from the side of the room.
Here's my absolutely favorite Cinderella variation: I adore it when the transformation is male. It plays to all my deepest instincts about men -- in other words, they should love us so much that they would transform themselves to keep us or to win us. I know we're supposed to love who they are, not who you want them to be -- Well, Pfffff! This is FANTASY! My favorite male Cinderella? LaVyrle Spencer's The Hellion. Gorgeous book about a wealthy good old boy with a fast car, way too many beer cans, and a pouch to show it. Hello, Cinderella!
Cinderella was in the back of my mind when I was writing Rafe's story in TAMING OF THE DUKE -- on sale today, so pleeeeeease rush out and trample down the door of your local bookstore to buy it! Rafe has been my clever, lazy, sweet-at-the-heart, sharp-tongued companion since I first created him as the guardian for four sisters at the beginning of Much Ado About You. I was typing along, and suddenly there was a hungover duke standing in the nursery piled with toys, saying that he wanted every little girl to have her own rocking horse, so they wouldn't have to argue. In the course of two books, he grew dearer to me, but there was no question that he needed something of a Cinderella moment to move into "hero" position. In the end, this was a delicious book to write. Rafe not only transformed, but became a knight in shining armor while he was at it!
What's your favorite romance with a Cinderella theme in it -- and does anyone know any other male Cinderella's other than TAMING and The HELLION? Because I want to read them!
P.S. I'm blogging about Taming Men (literally!) over on MSNBC.com today -- check it out, if you have a moment:
Monday, March 27, 2006
Connie Comes Up for Air to Pose...
THE MORAL CONUNDRUM DU JOUR
I've been thinking about dying a lot lately, mostly because I'm finishing a book and every time I get to this point I inevitably wish I was dead so that Christina or Liz or Lisa would have to finish it. Oh, yes, they would have to finish it, too. It's in the Squawk by-laws--you have to finish your dead friend's books so your estate won't have to return the advance and your family can cha-cha through your funeral in style. No, sub-standard funerals (i.e. "dry") for any Squawker! Christina and Liz and Lisa get tagged for this mission because they write contemporary. If I do die, I'm going to make sure I float down (or dig my way up, as the case may be) for a look-see of that particular Selection Process. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah...The Big D.
Here's your conundrum: What should you do if you're taking care of a friend's house and the goldfish dies?
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Liz Rocks the Blog
Because it really was about the music. In defiance of Disco and a host of bland pop and rock bands that marked the ‘70s (and as a member of the class of ‘79, I can assure you that much of the music of that period left A LOT to be desired), Punk was like Cher in the movie “Moonstruck,” when she smacks Nicholas Cage and says, “Snap out of it!” It was just so in-your-face and so refreshing coming amid a sea of safe, inoffensive, unchallenging music, that it was impossible to ignore.
And, BOY, did I snap out of it. “Rocket to Russia” changed my life. Truly. The moment I heard it as the Midnight Album on a local FM station in 1977, I knew I was about to embark on a new musical journey. Because I realized then that if there was one band like the Ramones out there shaking things up, there must be more. And I made it my personal quest to find them, even if I was living in Louisville, Kentucky, and satellite radio was still decades away. Thus was born my determination to root out good music wherever it might lay.
“Rocket to Russia” is so good in so many ways, and it’s an excellent introduction to the joys of Punk Rock. Where the Clash were marked by their politics, and other Punk bands by their determination to offend, the Ramones just liked to play music. Joey Ramone was an unapologetic lover of Bubblegum pop and always included Punk versions of such songs in their repertoire. For “Rocket to Russia,” it’s “Surfin’ Bird” and “Do You Wanna Dance?” But the original tunes are also surprisingly melodic and quite, quite danceable. Not to mention ALL the Ramones--Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy (at least for a couple of albums)---were very good musicians. That can’t be said of all Punk bands, alas.
Oh, there’s social commentary, too, as evidenced by songs like “We’re a Happy Family” and “Teenage Lobotomy,” but those songs are so funny, you can’t help but love them. For the most part, the selections on this album are just imbued with the band’s obvious affection for Rock ‘n’ Roll in its purest form--as an expression of teen angst and rebellion, and the desire of every young generation to have music to call its own.
The Ramones and bands like them kept the music of my generation from degenerating into blandness and uniformity. They kept ME from degenerating into blandness and uniformity. And for that, I will always be grateful.
The Official Squawk Radio Winner of Libba Bray's A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and REBEL ANGELS in hardcover is JULIE FROM OHIO!!!
Congratulations Julie! Just send your snail mail addy to: firstname.lastname@example.org and the books will soon be winging their way to you from www.booksamillion.com
Thanks to all who Commented and participated in our Saturday Book Blog. Tune in next Saturday for our latest installment! :)
Saturday, March 25, 2006
A BLOG WITH LIBBA BRAY, WHEREIN SHE DISCUSSES ACCIDENTAL WRITING, BAD FIRST IDEAS, ROMANCE JACKET COPY, AND THE PROBLEM OF FIGURE SKATING TO CLASSIC ROCK
When I was eight, I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a figure skater. It didn’t matter that I lived in Texas, which is not generally known as the winter sport capital of the world. It didn’t matter that I was a chubby little bookworm with all the athletic grace of a geriatric slug. It didn’t matter that I’d never had a pair of ice skates on my feet. As God was my witness, I was going to be a champion figure skater with a haircut imitated by millions! This was before my mother gave me that gentle, let’s-come-back-to-reality talk:
Mom: Honey, we live in the tropics. There are no ice skating rinks here. Eat your Cocoa Puffs.
Me: (tearful) Well, where are there ice rinks? (slurp, gobble)
Mom: (so over the drama) Somewhere cold, like Minnesota.
Me: (full wail) WELL…THEN…I…AM…RUNNING…AWAY…TO…MINNESOTA!
(What is up with this chick, you may be saying to yourselves. She’s going off on some wacked-out tangent on ice skating? No worries. See, I’m a writer. I’m tying it back in to my larger theme. Work with me, people, work with me.)
Since I couldn’t skate to sequined glory, I did what I did best: I made up a whole figure skating story arc in my head. My fantasy always started with me twirling and whirling to Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”—a song that is about 400 minutes long. Seriously, you could drive cross-country to that song. If I skated to that, they’d be carrying me off the ice in a body bag. Still, in my head, it was a beautiful thing. But before long, my ice skating fantasy wasn’t doing it for me anymore. It needed something else. It was time to bring out my mental bedazzler gun and embellish: I was going for the gold at the Olympics, but I was the underdog. A good start. But wait—there’s more! I was a teen from a dying steel mill town that needed to believe in something again, even if it was a plucky, can-do redhead with thighs that could crush beer cans. Oooh, now we’re talking. More drama please. My family’s plane had been reported missing, and I would have to take the ice not knowing whether they lived or died! I would skate for them! And the dying steel mill town, but hey, let’s get to the outfit. Sequins. Lots of sequins. I’m talking Liberace bling. You’re with me, right? Great. With America holding her breath, and my possibly maimed family lost in the Rockies somewhere, I would suck up my grief and become the first female figure skater ever to perform a triple Salchow-half-caf-backflip with foam. Can you smell the roses blanketing the ice? Can you?? Who needs the rules and regs and boredom of real skating when you can just make it all up as you go along?
Clearly, I was ready to write fantasy. I just didn’t know it yet.
Fast forward. When I sold my YA trilogy idea to Random House in 2001, I pitched it as “A Victorian Buffy the Vampire Slayer, complete with a heroine who kicks butt and takes names, all in a crinoline and corset.” I think there was even mention of my heroine fighting giant beetles in one installment. This is, perhaps, a cautionary tale about your first idea not necessarily being your best idea. But somehow—maybe mercury was in my house of Oh-No-She-Didn’t luck—I managed to sell this sucker on a wing and a prayer. And then I went, uh, gee, now what do I do? Mainline chocolate? Make sock puppets? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?
I’d never written an historical before. Or a fantasy. Or, um, a trilogy. Unlike J.K. Rowling, I wasn’t even British. Boarding school? Please, I spent my high school years listening to Led Zeppelin and giving myself bad home perms. And as for holding several story arcs in my head at one time, I feel it necessary to point out that I can barely organize my laundry into whites and colors. Was I insane??? You might as well have asked me to do a triple Lutz. (Ha! You doubted I could do work that skating thing in, didn’t you? Go, Libba…it’s your birthday…Go, Libba, it’s your birthday…) So how, exactly, was a girl from the flatlands of Texas, a kid raised on Monty Python, Cheap Trick, and K-Mart, going to write a story about a 16-year-old girl in Victorian England with a dead mother, a lot of guilt, supernatural powers, treacherous friends, a mysterious destiny, and a smokin’ hot love interest/nemesis named Kartik? Beats me.
The truth is, for me, writing has always been a way to discover what I don’t know but need to find out—about myself, about life, about the human condition. The whole process is like standing at the open mouth of a plane, holding on to the rip cord while looking down in fear and ecstasy, saying, “Wow, this could all end very badly…” I’m what’s known as a “plunger”—I dive headlong into a novel and see where it takes me. I live for the freefall. I write a scene here, another there. Sometimes the magic works; sometimes it doesn’t. I admire those people who can outline and synopsize things. They probably know where their keys are, too. Sadly, I am not one of those people. I’m a mess. Chaos seems to be my method. There is always a moment when I’m on deadline when someone asks, “So, how’s the writing going?” I get that hunted look, my lip quivers, and I say, “I am going to end up living in the park picking through the bones of small roadkill for sustenance. I’m going down in flames! Flames, I tell you! Oh, the humanity, the humanity…” They usually say with a yawn, “Oh, you’re at that point of the novel. Keep writing.”
One thing that’s been a big help to me is my freelance job at Kensington Books. First of all, it gets me out of the house, where, if I stay alone for too long, I actually start to believe that George Clooney is waiting patiently for my call. Second, it’s opened my eyes to the worlds of other authors. For the past six years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing jacket copy for some fabulous romance authors there under the tutelage of the TGKD (The Great Kate Duffy, romance editor extraordinaire.) To see people like Lori Foster or MaryJanice Davidson or Susan Johnson turn in synopses that say, “and something happens here—I’ll figure it out later” is such a huge relief. To know that a story about a Regency viscount can blossom into a knockout tale of a vampire private investigator who sings in a rock band called Isn’t It Byronic makes me giddy with joy. Hey, I figure if these amazing writers can plunge first and ask questions later, maybe there’s hope for me.
When I started this trilogy, I had some vague notion that it would be a light-hearted mystery romp set in Victorian England. What I got when I wasn’t looking was a story that challenged me at every level and forced me to dig deep, a story about uneasy but necessary friendships and survival, aspiration versus duty, breaking away and falling apart, coming to terms with yourself and your past. It’s about good girls realizing that sometimes being bad is better. That actions have consequences. That power brings responsibility, but running away from your own power isn’t an option. It’s about dysfunctional families and the damage life inflicts, the terrible burden of carrying secrets, and the hope that lives inside everyone, refusing to give up its perch. The story of these girls’ lives had a lot to show me about the story of my own.
My motto is: Dream big and worry about the clean-up later. Write with heart and soul and passion. Tell secrets. Make a wound and heal it. Leave some marrow on the page. Let your story find you. Believe as if nothing else matters. Hit the ice with all your sequins shining, baby.
And if it doesn’t work, there’s always sock puppets.
What about you? Have you ever started a book with one idea only to have it completely turn around on you and become something else? What did you do when that happened? What is your writing process: Do you outline? Are you a total plunger? Or are you somewhere in between?
(You can visit Libba's website at www.libbabray.com)
SATURDAY BOOK BLOG: TERESA DISCOVERS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL
Do you ever feel as if you were destined to read a certain book? I originally spotted Libba Bray's first book A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY on the "New in Hardcover" shelf at my local Borders. I immediately thought, "What a gorgeous romance cover!" I thumbed through the book only to discover that it wasn't a romance at all but a Victorian historical set at an English girl's boarding school. Although I was intrigued, I put the book back on the shelf.
Then at the Dallas RWA conference a few weeks later, I was signing books with fellow Avon author Cathy Maxwell when she started telling me about this amazing YA (Young Adult) book she'd just read. "You have to read it," she told me. "It's like Harry Potter for girls!" Swayed by her enthusiasm, I followed her to the YA section of the bookstore only to discover she was talking about the very book I'd spotted at Borders. I had no idea it was even being marketed as Young Adult fiction!
Not one to resist the seductive kiss of fate twice, I came home with a shiny new hardcover in my suitcase. And boy am I glad I did! A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is a wonderful balm for the soul of the reader who is always lamenting, "There's nothing fresh out there to read!" It's a deliciously dark Gothic Victorian historical paranormal with a tasty sprinkling of romance. Think of it as THE SECRET GARDEN and A LITTLE PRINCESS on acid.
The book opens in India in 1895 when 16-year-old Gemma Doyle witnesses the tragic and mysterious death of her mother. Her opium-addicted father quickly packs her off to Spence, one of those oh-so-proper British boarding schools that are secretly seething with all of the passion, drama and intrigue that only adolescent girls can create. The headstrong Gemma is quickly befriended by shy, impoverished Ann, ambitious Felicity, and beautiful Pippa, whose desire for a handsome prince to spirit her away risks leading them all to disaster. Gemma also discovers that she is the sole key to opening a magical alternate universe called "The Realms" and that her fate is inextricably entwined with her mother's. The only thing the book lacks is a handsome, sexy, mysterious Gypsy lad who could turn out to be either Gemma's protector or her mortal enemy. Oh, wait—the book has that too!
I'm delighted to report that the second book in the series, REBEL ANGELS, is just as good if not even better than the first book. In ANGELS, Bray moves the action to the city for the Christmas holiday. Her writing is gorgeous and crisp and she brings Victorian London to such vivid life that I could almost smell the soot in the air and feel the warm glow of the gaslights on my skin.
I read somewhere that the corset on the cover of the first book was meant to symbolize the repression of women and young girls in the Victorian Era. Gemma is a very strong character—smart, headstrong, passionate—and you sense that her adventures, however fantastical and dangerous, may eventually lead her to the intellectual and spiritual freedom that all women crave.
If you've ever wondered how the world would be different if J.K. Rowling had penned HARRIET POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE, I definitely recommend these books.
I would have loved them when I was fourteen and I love them now! Since A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY hit the New York Times bestseller list--an amazing feat for a first novel--I must not be the only one. The books are written in first person and present tense, which only adds to the immediacy of the story. Ms. Bray is planning one more book in this series.
And talk about a small world--when I was preparing this blog, I discovered that Libba has also written back cover copy for Kensington romances for years for beloved editor Kate Duffy, who was our guest at Squawk Radio just a few weeks ago!
I'm thrilled that Libba has agreed to pop in with her own blog later today! We're also going to be giving away a set of both hardcovers to one of our lucky random Commenters. (You're eligible no matter which of today's blogs you Comment under.)
You're welcome to discuss the books if you've read them. Just don't forget to put SPOILER at the top of your Comment if it includes Spoilers. And has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been mysteriously and repeatedly drawn to a book you might otherwise not have bought?
Friday, March 24, 2006
Christina Dodd Sternly Chides the Whiners on Squawk Radio
Of course, our own Squawkers are on the list!
For Best Long Contemporary Romance!
You've Got Male by Elizabeth Bevarly
For Best Novella!
“Glad Rags” in The True Love Wedding Dress by Constance Brockway
“A Proper Englishwoman” in Talk of the Ton by Eloisa James
For Best Paranormal Romance!
After Midnight by Teresa Medeiros
For Best Short Historical Romance!
It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas
So who would be whining on Squawk Radio? Gee, I don't know. You figure out WHO'S NOT ON THE LIST!!!
But really, I'm thrilled for my colleagues. Congratulations, blah blah, an honor to know you, blah blah, can't wait to hear your acceptance speeches (can I quit now? ... ouch! stop stabbing me with your skinny elbows!) Loved all your books, yada yada, well-deserved, YAWN!! Couldn't have been happier.
CONGRATULATIONS TO LISA, TERESA, ELOISA, CONNIE AND ELIZABETH!!!
Lisa on "Creature Comforts"
I'm writing from my in-law's house, where Greg and the kids and I are staying until tomorrow. We drove to Dallas for a memorial service for Greg's aunt, which was sweet and sad, and now today we're going to do some visiting, eating, maybe a little shopping, and catch up with each other.
I really enjoy seeing my mother in law, who is funny and warm and is perfectly willing to divulge all those embarrassing stories about my husband's childhood, while the kids and I scream with laughter.
But staying at someone else's house, no matter how wonderful the host may be, always entails a little sacrifice. I have become distressingly particular about my likes and dislikes. I like my coffee very strong, I like real half-and-half as opposed to powdered cream, and I like Nutrasweet instead of the pink packets.
I like a soft, nearly flat pillow, as opposed to the tall ones that make you feel like you've been sleeping on a curbstone. I like my own cushiony office chair when I'm at the computer, and I like to watch a certain news channel in the morning, and . . . well, you get the idea. I like my creature comforts. My home life is comprised of all these wonderfully familiar elements, and I miss them when I'm gone.
I think it's good to leave home every now and then, so when you get back, you appreciate all the little things that make life so comfortable. And while I relish the opportunity to be around family . . . man, I can't wait to get back to my own bathtub, and my own coffee mug with the chicken design on it, and my fluffy throw blanket . . .
What are the creature comforts you hate to go without? Are you picky about your pillow, your dinner-time, your coffee, your extra-firm mattress?
Visit SQUAWK RADIO on Saturday morning March 25th for the SATURDAY BOOK BLOG! Teresa will be discussing Libba Bray's Victorian YA paranormals: A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and REBEL ANGELS. We'll also be giving away a set of both books in hardcover to one lucky Commenter and we're hoping the author herself might pop in for an afternoon blog!
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Liz Recaptures the Magic
Every year, at the invitation of Green River Writers, I and four or five other published authors in a variety of genres teach writing classes and work in-depth with a small group of people who are writing their first novels. And every year, I have a blast. At the end of the week, I’m always incredibly flattered to be told by the NIPW participants how helpful and inspirational I and the other faculty members have been to them. But what the NIPW participants don’t realize is how helpful and inspirational they are to me.
I’ve been writing professionally since 1988. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what it was like creating that first novel. The bubble of inspiration that finally popped and became an idea. The relentless tug of characters demanding life. The blind hope for publication that allowed me to pick up a pen and start writing. The breathless anticipation of thumbing through the thesaurus for just the right word. The unmitigated joy of watching it all play out like...(Meg Ryan "Sleepless in Seattle" pause)...magic.
These days, other things crowd into my head when I sit down to write. Reader expectations. Market trends. Editorial needs. List placement. Shrinking print runs. Disappearing imprints. They’re things that have no place in my novel, but inevitably, they big-shoulder their way into my creative process and start shoving me around. Sometimes I can shove back hard enough to make them slink away. But sometimes I can’t, and they beat me bloody. They’re an occupational hazard I have to live with now. I can’t escape them completely, no matter how fast I run.
That, I think, is the tragedy of living one’s dreams. They cease to be dreams when one begins to live them and turn into reality instead. And as a wise philosopher once said, “Reality bites.” Yes, there are certainly still moments of joy and hope and fun when I write. If there weren’t, I wouldn’t keep doing this. But it’s not a dream anymore. I've had a peek behind the curtain, so the magic's been tarnished. It’s reality now that sometimes bites.
But for one week every year, I am immersed in the creation of that first novel once again. I witness the marvel of producing a wonderful story from seemingly nothing, and I am awed by it. It really is amazing, how we novelists take common, everyday words and arrange them in a way that evokes beautiful imagery and heartfelt emotion. I don’t know why I keep forgetting that. But I remember it every time one of my NIPW students starts talking about his or her book. I see their magic and feel their dreams. And it gives me the strength I need to shove harder the next time the bullies come around.
So thanks, all you first-timers, for reminding me what’s really important in this business: It’s not the business that’s important at all.
So who’s discovering the magic of a first novel? Or who’s setting out on the journey of following one’s heart? Who has a dream they want to fulfill someday? And how are you going to go about making that dream a reality?
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
ELOISA ON DOING TIME
But, not to worry, this isn't another tear-jerker! I labeled this blog "doing time," because that's what it feels like when you're in the hospital with a sick child who's getting better. When she's really ill, you don't think -- you just hang on and pray. But when she's getting better, and starts sleeping snatches here and there, you sit by the bed, or on the bed, and what do you do? You can't leave -- she might wake up. You can't watch TV -- she might wake up.
I had one book with me, snatched on the way of the house. It's called Devil in Winter. Ever heard of it?
I fell into this book the way a starving person falls on a loaf of bread. I read it every moment my daughter wasn't sleeping. I read it to drown out the beeps from the monitors, and the results of blood tests I couldn't control, and the crying of babies in other rooms. Sebastian and Evie kept me company and I actually started laughing when I got to the point where Evie was taking care of Sebastian and he was getting testy about the speck of dirt in his water. Hey, I know that scene! I was living it -- except my little tyrant wasn't a gorgeous naked man wrapped in a linen sheet.
Moments of clarity descend on us in the oddest moments, whether they have to do with how we feel as moms, or how we feel as wives, or how we feel as writers. Sometimes I have to remember why I'm a writer -- and it's not just for the pure pleasure of creating stories. Part of the reason I'm a writer is that I get so much joy from taking people out of bad situations, if only for a few hours -- and I know that pleasure so well because romances give it to me.
Was there some particularly tough moment in your life when a romance saved your sanity? Tell us about it!
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Eloisa's Entry into the Mommy Wars
Everyone knows about the Mommy Wars, right? Who's the best mother -- one who stays home and makes homemade meals, or the mother who has a job and depends heavily on pizza? I hate those articles. After all, I don't have just one job -- I have two! I'm the chair of three committees at my university and one at the romance writers of America -- but I never go to the PTA meetings. I run the graduate program in my English department, arranging the schedule of graduate classes, all fellowships, all admissions, all exams -- but my poor children never get a play-date unless a desperate mother calls me. Then I send out our au pair with a hand-drawn map (my motherly touch). I've had that sinking feeling for years. I love my children. I read to them, and I yell at them, and I get them dressed. But I don't even skim those articles about Mommy Wars. I know that moms like myself are the dregs of the dregs....even those Banker Mommies couldn't defend me.
But something happened last week that changed my mind on that subject forever. One thing you have to know in order for this story to make sense is that my daughter has kidney disease. She's the bravest, scrappiest, most wonderful seven-year-old girl in the world (from my point of view). She doesn't think she's sick, or unlucky: she thinks she's brilliant and funny (which she is). But if she gets stomach flu, her blood levels go crazy and we're generally admitted to the hospital within two to three hours.
So it was the night before we were due to leave for Disneyworld...and she started throwing up at 11:30. By 2:00, she was admitted to the peds floor. Stomach flu is a real bear for a scrap of a person with kidney disease: she got a migraine headache, and she was so dehydrated that she begged and begged for water. And I couldn't give her any; she even threw up one ice chip. Not my favorite day, that's for sure.
Well, she started to get better around four the following afternoon. And typically for her, she cheered up right away and began making friends with all the nurses. She had the children's life people searching out every movie version of Peter Pan they could find. And she started waving and smiling at the little person in the crib next to her bed.
This little 16-month-old girl was obviously a preemie: a gorgeous, smiley person. Her mother was there, very young, wearing very tight jeans and a low-cut blouse. She seemed quiet, not shy exactly, but reserved. Then about 7:30 at night, her husband showed up; they both petted their little daughter...and left.
"Wait!" I said to the nurse. "Did they both leave? You mean...they're gone?"
The nurse gave me a look. "Could you press your button when she wakes up during the night?"
Of course I could. I felt as if I knew our neighbor by now. She was too good to be true--literally. My daughter's a 24-week preemie, and I can recognize developmental delays when I see them. But my preemie had physical therapy, feeding therapy and occupational therapy for three years. And now she's ahead of the curve. Our neighbor put herself to sleep.
We were up all night long. The cardio monitor, the blood pressure, the blood tests, the going to the bathroom, the beeping IV...you know what it's like. We slept together, when we were sleeping, my daughter curled against me like a small hibernating animal.
In the morning, our neighbor woke up. She didn't say anything, or cry. You could tell she was used to waking up in her crib and didn't expect anyone to come. My daughter played and pranced for her, and the baby smiled, her big brown eyes glowing. She didn't seem to want breakfast. She just lay there and smiled and watched. She never laughed--just smiled.
My heart was breaking -- and that's when I realized that the Mommy Wars are all crap. I'm a great mom. Every one of you out there who wouldn't dream of leaving your child alone in a hospital room is a great mom. I started listening to my daughter, who was running all over, trailing her IV, and talking to the nurses. "You should let my mom do that," she told a nurse. "She's great with babies." (Never mind the fact that I'm at work every day.) "My mom slept with me last night," she told the child therapist, who grinned at me. "Just as good as the Ritz?" the therapist asked.
I'm a great mom, because my love means that my daughter kept asking what happened to the baby's mama, and why she didn't come back. We were discharged from the hospital at 11:30 in the morning, and we had to leave the little girl, still lying on her stomach, propped up on the pillow, smiling at us -- but the nurse promised that the music therapist would come soon, and she would take her out of her crib.
I just wish that I could stop wishing that I had taken her out myself, and run away with her, down the hall and out of the hospital...but it's like that poem of Robert Frost's: "The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep." I had a little girl who'd been promised Disneyworld -- and we had a plane to catch.
What's a moment that crystallized your feelings about motherhood -- something you, your mother, a friend or a stranger did that made you think about the role of mothers?
TERESA SHARES HER SECRET FOR SUCCESS
I've always believed one of the primary functions of a blog is to humiliate yourself publicly. I'm here to prove that today by sharing my very first query letter with you. For those of you not familiar with the lingo, a query letter is the letter you send to a publisher or agent asking them if they'd like to look at (and hopefully buy and publish) your book. As you will see, this is the worst query letter in the history of query letters--a veritable treasure trove of "Whatever you do, don't do this!" I'm including my editorial comments in red and in parentheses.
May 29, 1985
Dear (Editor Who is No Longer Employed By This Company),
I frantically searched my bookshelves one evening for the romance novel that I wanted to read. I didn't find it. (Because you and the other dimwits at your publishing house obviously aren't publishing anything worth reading.) Reading "The Flame and the Flower" (which was published 13 years ago, clearly demonstrating that I've kept up with current trends) for the fifth time reeked of redundancy (gotta love that alliteration! And look-I know big words!)
What did I want to read about? I wanted to read about a heroine with guts; a noble hero with fascinating flaws; a passionate love-hate relationship that grows with time; interesting sattelite (sattelite? Um, you wouldn't mean "secondary" by any chance?) characters; humor; enough tragedy to keep the good times looking good. (I also know how to use semi-colons, although not particularly well!) I wanted adventure and fantasy and intrigue.
And thus was born "Loving Vengeance." (Thank heavens it wasn't spawned!) I am submitting it to you for publication (or to use as a booster seat for your kid). It is a historical romance set in ancient Ireland. (Because that's a really popular setting!)
I look forward to hearing your reaction. (As opposed to shuddering.)
T.H. Medeiros (because I'm incredibly pretentious and aspiring to be the next T.H. White)
I have shared this letter today not just to humiliate myself or to amuse Connie and Christina, but to give you hope. If an idiot like this can sell a book and get published and go on to have a successful career that has now spanned almost twenty years, so can you!
So what was the most humiliating moment of YOUR career?
Monday, March 20, 2006
Visit SQUAWK RADIO on Saturday morning March 25th for the SATURDAY BOOK BLOG! Teresa will be discussing Libba Bray's Victorian YA paranormals: A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and REBEL ANGELS. We'll also be giving away a set of both books in hardcover to one lucky Commenter and we're hoping the author herself might pop in for an afternoon blog!
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Yes, it’s true. My first book, CANDLE IN THE WINDOW, was published fifteen years ago in March 1991. CANDLE IN THE WINDOW won Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart and RITA awards and has never been out of print. Around my house, we call it THE BOOK THAT WILL NOT DIE. I have Some Thoughts About Publishing I wish to share. Warning — this is Serious. (Christina waits for the dust from the stampede to settle, looks around at the empty room, and shows the qualities that have helped her survive so long —an immense ego and no sense of reality.)
MY TOP TEN POINTS OF WISDOM
10. After ten years in the business, an author has A Well Established Career. After fifteen, an author is an Expert, a Venerable Institution … a Crone. Pardon me while I go and pluck the stiff white hairs off the chin of my current manuscript.
9. From my vantage point, everyone in publishing is doing better than I am. From everyone else’s vantage point, I’m doing better than they are. The truth is somewhere in between — and an author who’s published is not going to get any sympathy at all from an unpublished author who’s written for ten years, finished three manuscripts and has twenty-five rejection letters. Believe me. I know. I was that author.
8. Editors are sometimes right.
7. How well an autographing goes is not an indicator of how well your career is going. Thank God.
6. I’ve published twenty-nine full length novels and contributed six stories to anthologies. Some books are hard to write. Some books are easy. Some books are beloved by many. Some books are reviled by the vile. And as the author I never have an idea which books will be my most popular. Never. I have to give up trying. Soon.
5. Some people write mean reviews. I don’t read them. What mean people think of me and my writing is none of my business.
4. Some readers just don’t like my writing. That’s okay, everyone has their right to their own taste. As long as they don’t write mean reviews about my books.
3. Some readers love my books. Some of them write good reviews. Some of them write me heartfelt letters of appreciation. Some of them come to meet me and say wonderful things, sometimes with tears in their eyes. Some of them buy my books and never let me know. God bless them every one.
2. I can’t remember my characters’ names, and I live with them day and night for months while I write their books. So I apologize in advance, but I’m hopeless and I’m never going to remember your name, either.
1. I am never going to understand what people mean when they say I write funny books. I write serious, meaningful, emotional, sexy books that somehow get translated into funny.
AND THE NUMBER ONE POINT OF WISDOM CHRISTINA DODD HAS TO SHARE IS:
1. When a Writer/Crone lies about having ten points to make but there are actually more, it’s not called a lie. It’s called, “Fiction."
MORE NUMBER ONE POINTS:
1. Nine out of ten people in the U. S. want to write a book. One out of that nine thinks s/he’ll do it “when s/he has a free weekend.” In many states, it’s a misdemeanor to kill this person.
1. Publishing is divided into two distinct occupations — Writing Books and Being an Author. Writing Books consists of being alone for months on end, creating imaginary people who converse, face challenges, and make love. Being an Author consists of introducing yourself to sometimes incredulous booksellers, talking to total strangers as they enter Wal-mart in the hopes of selling them a book, and interacting with publishers and editors in a manner that will convince them you’re sane enough to write twenty-nine more books. This is why all authors are schizophrenic.
1. It’s well worth pondering that most people don’t have a cool job that consists of being alone for months on end while creating imaginary people who converse, face challenges, and make love. It’s worth the schizophrenia.
1. The best thing a writer can have if she wants to be successful is a mother who believes she’s wonderful. A husband who believes she’s wonderful and supports her for ten years while she tries to get published helps, too. Failing those things, the most important thing an author can have is an absolutely brutish belief in herself and her talent, and she can never ever allow the facts to change that faith.
THE NUMBER ONE NUMBER ONE POINT:
1. The Girl Scouts have a song with the lyrics that go, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.” The Girl Scouts know a lot about publishing. And people. And my friends.
Thank you for a great fifteen years.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Eloisa on the Pleasures of Innuendo
The subject is one of my favorite books from this year, Lord Perfect, by Loretta Chase. I think Loretta is one of the very best writers we have: her characters are idiosyncratic and interesting, and her stories are sensually delicious. Lord Perfect is the story of a man who has it all in spades, and knows it. Benedict Carsington is an earl, and perfect in every way (he never even sweats--just disregard that picture on the cover!). Bathsheba Wingate is a nightmare, from his point of view: she's from a family of rascals, her daughter's an obvious hoyden, and she's far too...too tempting. Especially in the bath, given her biblical name. Of course Benedict gets tempted. Of course, he succumbs. So will you.
Here's my point, though. We certainly have romance writers who can create sizzling sensuality and unusual characters. But we have very few who can write truly funny, witty prose -- and I think Loretta Chase stands alone when it comes to dialogue. What Bathsheba and Benedict do best (and I suspect those names are supposed to bring to mind Beatrice and Benedick from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing) is insult each other.
Dictionary.com gives the definition of "insult" as "To give offense; offend: a speech that was intended to insult."
The cleverest of insults, to my mind, are the ones that take moment to understand. Here's a good one, along those lines: Gore Vidal's comment about Andy Warhal: "the only genius with an IQ of 60." Ouch!
My favorite insults turn away from offence and toward desire. After all, a romance writer faces the task of bringing men and women together over and over and over, in different books. In the beginning you might think it's more than enough to write: "He desired her. He thought about how much he would like to put tab A into..." After a book or two, you start to hanker after clever conversation. Even insults. I love it when the dance into bed isn't marked by buttons flying around the room, but by delicious innuendo.
Lord Perfect is rife with insults: the desiring, funny, sarcastic kind. Here's an example of insults used brilliantly to create a flirty conversation (you should know that Benedict and Bathsheba are drunk as skunks at this moment and in an inn, pretending to be a married couple):
He drained the contents and stood. The room tilted slightly. "Time for bed. Important day tomorrow. Decisions."
. . .
"That is what I like about you, Mr. Dashwood," she said. "You are so decisive. It saves me all the bother of thinking for myself."
"That is what I like about you, Mrs. Dashwood," he said. "You are so sarcastic. It saves me the bother of trying to be tactful and charming."
This one isn't an insult, but a brilliantly executed bit of conversation (quite true to men's imaginations too):
While he tied her petticoat, she swallowed and said, "I daresay proper ladies do not unbutton gentlemen's trousers."
"They do not do that," he said as he tugged her frock straight, "nearly so often as one could wish."
Loretta Chase is one of my favorite writers. I honestly think that Lord of Scoundrels is probably the best historical ever written -- anyone else read Lord Perfect or any other Loretta Chase novel? If you've already got your hands on Lord Perfect, what's your favorite line?
Friday, March 17, 2006
Lisa on "Pierce Brosnan"
You may not be aware that I am one of the world's most passionate Pierce Brosnan fans. Pierce is everything a romance hero should be, and is in my opinion one of the best looking men ever put on the planet.
I can't think of a better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than to ponder, for a moment, the glories of Pierce.
Like our favorite heros of romantic fiction, Pierce is tall, built, dark-haired, with a face of rugged poetry and eyes of blue-on-blue. He's gotten better-looking as time has weathered his handsomeness. And always, his looks have been seasoned by the sly intelligence and the devilish smile of a man who doesn't take himself too seriously.
If you haven't watched Pierce in the Thomas Crown Affair, you've missed one of the sexiest performances ever caught on film. He's a bad boy with a lover's soul, a disciplined thief with a voluptuary's appetite . . . a mysterious stranger with a heart instantly open to all the possibilities of romance.
Is it any wonder he's Irish?
What is it about Irish men? Why do we find them so irresistible? Who else besides Pierce causes your heart to flutter? Liam? Colin?
Squawk Radio Bids Karen Hawkins a Fond Farewell
Visit Karen's website at www.karenhawkins.com! And when you want to laugh and love again, grab her wonderful new book, HER MASTER AND COMMANDER!
Thursday, March 16, 2006
This is it. My last blog for Squawk Radio. (sniff, sniff) Had I known it would be this much fun, I’ve have had my own blog . . .
But no. That would mean work. And I’m allergic.
Which is why all of my personal, real life heroes are do-ers. I admire people who overcome the odds and accomplish things I only dream about.
I make a great fan. NO ONE has mastered fandom like I have. Ask Hugh Jackman. (Oh yes, he knows my name. He had to write it on the restraining order. Bet he doesn’t know YOUR name, does he?)
Normally, I’d say I admire Hugh Jackman more than anyone else, but while I admire and lust after Hugh, he’s not my real hero. Not this week.
This week I am saving all of my fandom for Iditarod musher Rachael Scdoris, of Bend, Oregon. Not only is Rachael racing in one of the most grueling races in the world, but she’s also legally blind.
Blind. And racing in the Iditarod.
Can you imagine it? The cold? The wind? The physical effort? The incredible stamina and sheer determination this woman must possess? If it’s under fifty degrees in the morning, I won’t go outside to get my newspaper. Yet here’s this woman and she’s OUTSIDE in it. OUTSIDE in a very big way.
Every morning, my daughter and I rush to the computer to check Rachael’s standings (http://www.gorachaelgo.com/iditarod.html) and gulp down the news. Where is she now? How is she faring? How are the dogs? What will the terrain be like today?
My daughter and I have had some wonderful, incredible conversations about Rachael. About what it must be like to be blind and be in this race. About what it must be like to be female and be in this race. About what it must be like to be in this race at all.
Rachael has made us both examine our lives and decide we need more challenges; we need to push ourselves to do more, be more, become more. Comfort is a lovely thing, but accomplishment will keep you young at heart and strong of spirit.
I humbly take off my large, floppy hat (the one that keeps my delicate skin from getting sunburned) and I bow in the general direction of Alaska.
Rachael Scdoris, you ROCK.
Because of Rachael, I’ve signed up for a race/obstacle course/trail run. I’ve never done anything like this before and I may well be the last one to cross the finish line, if I make it at all. But if Rachael can mush the Iditarod, surely I can accomplish this one trail run. I’ll let you all know how it goes. I begin training on Monday.
Is there someone whose accomplishments have inspired you? Do you share your fan-dom with your daughters/sisters/friends? If you could accomplish one thing (there are no limits) what would it be?
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
This is Karen's Sister Early in the Morning
ME WRITE FUNNEE ONE DAY or
Tales of a Self-Professed Humoraholic, Karen Hawkins
I love to laugh. My family loves to laugh. One of my earliest memories is of watching my dad chase my mom around the house with a dish towel while she was carrying a basket of rolls. He’d snap the dish towel at her legs and she’d throw a roll at him.
They were laughing so hard they couldn’t breathe.
They don’t run now, but just yesterday my mom hid the remote control under her newspaper and changed the channel to The Shopping Network every five minutes. My dad was knee deep in a golf show. Just as someone important would tee off, zap! the channel would change to The Shopping Network. Worse, they were showing a line of full-figured lingerie.
This went on for thirty minutes – Golf. Lingerie. Golf. Lingerie. He’d grumble at the TV and wonder what was wrong. She’d just hide further behind the paper and snicker. He finally caught on, burst out laughing, got out of his recliner and promptly tickled her.
They are in their sixties. It was a beautiful moment.
One of the most wonderful things about life is our capacity to love and laugh. I think romance novels take us from a drab, over-worked day and bring us those little tastes and glimpses of fresh, new love that remind us not to take our own lives too seriously.
Better yet, laughter is best when shared. When we find something funny, there is an instinctual desire to share it with someone else.
I’ve given many workshops on writing humor. It’s unfortunate but humor doesn’t write itself. Yet well-written humor will seem to be just that. It has to appear effortless and natural, and frankly, that can be difficult.
As I’ve evolved as a writer, I’ve discovered that almost all humor will fit under one of four types:
1) Three Stooges. This is a physical, slap-stick comedic act like falling down a set of stairs or being tossed into the hero’s lap when the carriage hits a deep rut in the road. Such humor requires careful set up and a light, deft hand at story telling to keep it from sounding mechanical. I love this sort of humor because it’s immediate and action-filled.
2) Character Humor. A certain character has a humorous trait (a butler who is also a pick pocket), or a non-humorous character has a humorous reaction to a specific situation (a pirate afraid of a spider). Character humor is very powerful. I use it more than any other kind as I feel it creates a bond between the reader and the character. I also love it because it’s so incredibly human. We are all sort of funny when you think about it!
3) Throw Away Line. This is when a character will say that laugh out loud one-liner that you want to read to all of your friends. It’s a lovely way to lighten up a rather dark character or a tense moment and speed the book’s pacing.
4) Running Gag. A running gag is recurring joke that is threaded throughout a book. It’s usually a light joke, sometimes between two characters, and sometimes between the character and the reader – where perhaps one character has a comical reaction that is not witnessed by anyone else in the book. Naturally, the reader knows what is going on and can appreciate the gag without it interfering with the storyline.
The best part of humor is sharing. Nothing is as funny as when you show it/share it/tell it to someone else.
Share with your fellow squawkers! What are the two funniest scenes you’ve ever read in a romance novel? The two funniest characters? What made these scenes and characters funny to you?
Loretta Chase is coming to Squawk on Saturday!
I'm doing a Saturday Book Blog on Loretta Chase's new book, Lord Perfect -- and Loretta has promised to stop by in the comments. So PLEASE -- pick up your copy of Lord Perfect (if you don't have it, buy it NOW--it's absolutely perfect in every way) and stop by the blog on Saturday to talk about the book.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
(This is Karen's boyfriend. Really, it is!)
IN WHICH KAREN HAWKINS TELLS OF HER VIRGINAL RWA EXPERIENCE AND EXPLAINS HOW SHE PITCHED HER FIRST BOOK WHICH WASN’T WRITTEN MUCH LESS THOUGHT OF (BUT EVENTUALLY WAS BOTH THOUGHT OF AND WRITTEN AND THEN SOLD UNDER ANOTHER NAME)
Or LIAR, LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE
Did I ever mention the time I went to an RWA conference and lied to an editor?
Oh yeah. I lied. I told the biggest, fattest whopper you ever heard.
See, I was a fresh off the turnip truck writer and I was scheduled to attend my first conference. Months before this, I had sent in the first three chapters of my first book.
At that time, your critique was returned to you on the same day as your editor appointment. And in my case, the two pivotal events were only fifteen minutes apart.
So fifteen minutes before I was to meet with this Huge New York Editor who, coincidently, was often referred to as The Bitch (she doesn’t work in New York any more, so I can say these things), I had the most horrible, crushing critique of my life.
No kidding. It was brutal. My book plot, the characters, the storyline, and the conflict were basically all crap. What made it so hard to deal with was that the critiquer was right – it was crap.
In fact, it was so bad that years later I threw a match on it and IT WOULDN’T BURN. That’s pretty bad. I finally had to wrap it in tin and fasten it to my TV antennae as an added wing. It’s probably still flying over that house in Tennessee.
Anyway, there I was on my way to this huge, mega-important meeting with New York’s shortest tempered editor and I had just found out that my entire book idea sucked raw eggs. So I did what any self respecting fiction writer would do, I decided to make up a book that I would eventually write, but hadn’t yet written and just PRETEND I’d already written it.
Am I bad, or what?
On the way to the interview, I also stopped an author friend of mine and said in a desperate voice, “Quick! Tell me five things this editor LOVES in a story! PLEASE!”
She did – this editor loved strong heroines with unusual careers, powerful heroes, the Elizabethan time period, animals, and Scotland.
Armed with this faint knowledge, I ran down the last hallway and went straight into my meeting. There I sat on the edge of my seat, facing the world’s most temperamental editor. On the spot, armed with nothing more than fear and desperation, I made up an entire book.
The interview went something like this:
SHE: So, when is your book set?”
ME: Elizabethan England?
SHE: That’s different. Who is your heroine?
ME: Ah. A woman . . . who . . . writes . . . plays? (Hey, all I could think of was Shakespeare. Do YOU know a great career for women in Elizabethan times?)
SHE: That’s intriguing. What else do I need to know about her?
ME: She . . . has . . . animals?
SHE: What about your hero?
ME: He’s . . . wealthy?
ME: Lives in Scotland?
I will spare you the rest of the interview, but as you can see, I told a biggie. What’s odd is that this editor asked for the first three chapters. And THEN asked for the whole book.
She didn’t buy it, though. Probably because it was a bit ah . . . disjointed. More likely because I’d stained it with Bad Karma by telling a whopper in the first place.
Lying is a funny thing. As soon as I told this editor that these were the parameters of my book, I felt that I HAD to write a book exactly like it to make the lie a non-lie. Which was what I did.
The only other time I can remember consciously lying was when a friend of mine tried on a pair of red stretch pants and said, “Do these make me look fat?” Normally, I am a tell-the-truth sorta friend, probably to my own detriment. This time, my friend was going through a horrible divorce, changing jobs, and had been forced to deal with the mother-in-law from heck for two weeks.
She didn’t WANT me to tell her she looked good in those pants; she NEEDED me to tell her she looked great in those pants. So I did, but then I suggested that they were a wee bit out of style and convinced her to try on a different pair. Whew! If she’d bought those suckers, I would have been forced to break into her house and burn them. Or wrap them in tin and hang them on my TV antennae.
What about you? When you were a kid, did you ever tell a wee fib? Did you get in trouble for it? Ever been caught telling a whopper? Ever had someone lie to you and you knew it and were just glad they’d taken the time and trouble?
KAREN HAWKINS SHARES HER NEW MOTTO: HAVE BUTLER, WILL BATHE
From the movie Arthur (1981)
Arthur: Do you know what I’m going to do? I am going to take a bath.
Hobson: I shall alert the media.
Arthur: Do you want to run my bath for me?
Hobson: It’s what I live for.
My brother and I decided my mother needed some help around the house, so we pitched in and hired a maid to clean once a week.
The day after the maid began, I called my mother to see how it went. “Oh fine,” she said. “My house has never been cleaner.”
In the background I heard my dad yell, “That’s because you cleaned it all before she got here!”
Apparently, my mother didn’t enjoy her house-cleaning present as much as we thought she would. Every week, the day before the maid was scheduled to arrive, my mother would scrub her entire house from top to bottom.
We had to fire the maid so my mother wouldn’t suffer severe exhaustion.
When I asked my mother about it, she got all flushed and said, “I just can’t have a STRANGER cleaning my house while I just SIT there! It’s not right!”
Me? I was born to have a butler. I have absolutely no problem sitting on my arse while people bustle around me, waiting on me hand and foot, bringing me tea, drawing my bath, ironing my clothes. I am ready, willing, and able to let a stranger – heck, a number of strangers – into my business in exchange for total servitude.
Doesn’t bother me a bit.
I’ve written a number of butlers in my time. One of them was Herberts from my Talisman Ring Series. Herberts was a reformed (ahem!) pick pocket turned personal servant. I based his character on Alfred P. Doolittle from My Fair Lady.
Now, in my new book, HER MASTER AND COMMANDER, I wrote Reeves, who is my own personal Sir John Gielgud butler like the one from the movie Arthur. He is capable, intelligent, a touch sarcastic, and ready at a moment’s notice to perform the smallest task with the greatest flair.
Better yet, he has an almost magical ability to Make Things Work. Wouldn’t you love to have someone watching over you who had that ability? AND knew how to make the world’s best Bloody Mary?
Do you think you’d like a butler/servant? Would you mind the loss of privacy? Would you be able to let someone else do your housework while you sat back and oh, read a good book? Or would it drive you batty?
Monday, March 13, 2006
Karen Hawkins writes. In Tennessee. At home. At her computer. While eating oreos and drinking Diet coke. In the nude.
Ok, ok, she's just kidding about the In The Nude part, but the rest of it is true.
Karen Hawkins began writing in 1996 at the grand age of (EDITED) while working on her PhD in political science. When she sold her first book in 1998, she did what all good grad students do -- she burned her stats book on her front lawn and promptly dropped out of school.
Since then, Karen has published eleven books and two novellas, made the USA Today list, the NYT extended list, won the prestigious MAGGIE award, finaled twice in the RITAS, earned a place on the Romance Writers of America's Honor Roll, and is president of Tennessee's only Hugh Jackman Is Hot Fan Club.
Karen's deepest desire beyond world peace is to find a way to eat anything she wants without gaining weight.
Like Oreos. Reese Cups. Cadbury eggs. Caramellos. And pies.
TERESA CELEBRATES WOMEN IN ALL GUISES AND SIZES
I don't know about you but these are two of my favorite sentences from a romance novel:
1) She was soft and yielding in all of the places he was hard.
2) He tenderly ran his hand over the gentle swell of her belly.
Now the latter would imply that our lovely heroine, paragon of feminine beauty that she is, actually HAS a belly. I'm a big believer in the scientific fact that women are genetically predisposed to store fat in certain areas of their bodies. (Especially in the winter when a package of Oreos may be all that stands between us and the horrors of famine.)
I also happen to know that men are genetically predisposed to look for good breeders. (That means hips large enough to pass a good-sized hobbit through the birth canal.) Before he asked me out, my future husband was busted by a fellow classmate for checking out the junk in my own proverbial trunk as I walked (strutted) across the room in front of him.
So why does society keep telling us we should aspire to look like this?
That's right. That's Teri Hatcher and Lara Flynn Boyle, just two of the Hollywood actresses who seem to be vanishing right before our eyes. Lara Flynn Boyle is so skinny she recently ended a guest stint on LAS VEGAS by (are you ready for this?) BLOWING OFF OF A ROOF!
The standard of female beauty in the Renaissance was typified by the Rubens painting above. But you only have to travel back to the 1960's and watch any James Bond film to see how our standards (and our actresses) have shrank in the past 40 years. The women in those movies were considered some of the most beautiful of their day. They looked glowing and healthy. They had thighs and (oh, miracle of miracles!) they even had bellies and they weren't afraid to show off their bellies in their snappy little bathing suits. They were much more likely to push someone off a roof than blow off a roof.
So how do we combat this ridiculous and unhealthy ideal? Can we just quote Sir Mix-A-Lot's BABY GOT BACK--"Cosmo says you're fat. Well, I ain't down with that!" Personally, I love the solution put forth by inspirational author Liz Curtis Higgs, who calls herself a "big, beautiful woman living in a nervous, narrow world." Liz suggests that we stand in front of the mirror every morning (with or without clothes), spread our arms wide and proclaim, "Blessed am I among women to live in such a beautiful temple!" That way, even if you feel you need to lose weight and get more fit, you can still love yourself while you're doing it.
One of my dear friends who has struggled to gain weight all of her life assures me that being too skinny is just as great a social problem as being too heavy. As she described to me the terrible ordeal of being forced to drink 3 chocolate milkshakes a day, I did the only thing I could. I pushed her off the roof.
Do you have any suggestions for combatting this terrible plague? How can we send a positive message to young girls who have been bombarded with these images since infancy?
Squawk Radio brings you Karen Hawkins
Starting tomorrow, author Karen Hawkins will blog with us about life, shoes, and her new historical romance, HER MASTER AND COMMANDER. Karen is beautiful, intelligent, insightful, talented and thin, all good reasons for the Squawkers to avoid her.
Fortunately, she's also kind, funny, generous with the margaritas, and she flatters us about our writing, so we love her. Join Squawk Radio tomorrow for Karen Hawkins!
Sunday, March 12, 2006
TERESA ACCEPTS LIZ'S INVITATION TO, "BE MY GUEST!"
(We interrupt the Sunday Music Blog to announce that Liz is currently occupied with writing duties, teaching duties and mother duties so today the part of Elizabeth Bevarly will be played by Teresa Medeiros. Any discrepancies in height, weight and hair color--natural or otherwise--are better left uncommented upon.)
I am a total soundtrack geek and the one soundtrack that rarely leaves my CD player is BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. When the legendary musical episode of BUFFY aired, we discovered that not only was Joss Whedon a literary genius who has given us some of the smartest TV ever, he was also capable of whipping up the music and lyrics of an entire Broadway show in his spare time. We also learned that James Marsters (as Spike--the leather-clad vampire I'd most like to sink my teeth into) could sing in an English accent.
Who needs Sarah Brightman when you can have Sarah Michelle Gellar? The soundtrack is actually more effective because Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn't attempt to trill any arias, but still sounds like Buffy when she sings. (It also makes it really easy to sing along in your car.) The songs range from winsome and wistful to laugh-out-loud witty and Whedon uses the music to advance the storyline by bringing several ongoing plots to their stunning climaxes. The songs are rife with revelations that make it clear that nothing will ever be the same.
In GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS, Buffy explores the loss of passion she's experienced since um...dying for the second time a few months before. In the standout number UNDER YOUR SPELL, Amber Benson as Tara, waxes poetic over her budding love for Willow. In I'LL NEVER TELL (which featured a terrific dance number in the episode), Xander and Anya experience the cold feet common to any young studly construction worker about to marry a former vengeance demon. In REST IN PEACE, the lovelorn Spike begs Buffy to just let him rest in peace if she won't confess her growing desire for him. During the appropriately titled WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE, the music swells and we sigh wistfully as we remember Spike and Buffy sharing their very first kiss in true Hollywood fashion before the credits rolled.
Because of the complexity of the continuing storylines, I don't know if this could ever be turned into a real Hollywood musical, but I sure would like to see Whedon try.
So do any of you own this CD? What are some of your favorite soundtracks???
THE WINNER OF THE AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF LOVER ETERNAL IS PJ!!!
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Christina Dodd Falls for LOVER ETERNAL
Some readers say the vampire fantasy doesn’t work for them. They say stuff like — a vampire is a demon. He doesn’t adhere to the rules of civilization. He chases his mate relentlessly and forces pleasure on her time and again. Worst of all, he’s dead.
I say — picky, picky. What other kind of man is going to stay stiff for hours and hours on end?
Last fall, I heard the on-line buzz about book one of The Black Dagger Brotherhood, DARK LOVER by J. R. Ward, and raced around town looking for the book. You know — small town, not many bookstores … I found and consumed book one and fell in love. DARK LOVER is set in the modern world in a town called Caldwell, NY, and contains complex characters — a warrior-hero who is dreadfully damaged and truly reprehensible, a heroine moving from one reality to another and infuriated by her change, and a whole group of tormented vampire warriors, The Black Dagger Brotherhood, intent on saving their race from a creepy gang of soulless things called the Lessening Society. When I closed the book, I remembered each scene so vividly I felt as if I’d lived it, and I stood in awe of the author who created such a complex world peopled with so many characters and dominated by a deepening sense of dread.
The second book, LOVER ETERNAL, wasn’t scheduled for publication until this month, March 2006. How could I stand to wait?
I looked at DARK LOVER and realized my editor was in the acknowledgements. In fact, my editor was J. R. Ward’s editor! Muahahahahaha! I called our editor and subtly suggested I would like an advanced reading copy (“Please send me a copy. Please, please, I can’t stand to wait, it’s such a good book, wow, you’re a genius, J. R. Ward is a genius, please …") After a sufficient amount of whining and sucking up, I scored my copy.
You probably know there’s an unspoken rule in publishing that says the second book in a series can’t be as good as the first.
J. R. Ward proves that’s a myth. In LOVER ETERNAL, she introduces us to heroine Mary Luce. Right away I realized Mary is more alone than any one person should ever be. She had suffered through the long, arduous death of her mother. She’d dealt with a life-threatening illness of her own on her own. She had lost her faith in God and lived on the ragged edge of desperation. And when the story opens, her doctor had called her in for a follow-up — and Mary knows what that means. Her disease has returned. Mary scared me because she could be me.
Then J. R. Ward mated Mary with a kind gentleman … heh, heh.
Of course, I’m pulling your leg. J. R. mates Mary with Rhage, the bad boy of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. When they meet, Rhage is instantaneously captivated by Mary’s voice and her body. He wants her because she satisfies the savage beast within him. The thing is — he really, really has a savage beast within him. He’s been cursed; whenever he loses his temper, the beast within him comes out. I mean — it comes OUT. He’s transformed into a monster, ripping, tearing, eating his enemies and, if they’re not careful, his friends. The transformation leaves him with an awful hangover and the fear that if he allows himself to get passionate and wild with Mary, he’ll destroy her — and himself. How these two tormented souls manage to fight and, well, mostly fight their way to a happy ending kept me riveted.
Yet LOVER ETERNAL is so much more than a love story. The romance between Rhage and Mary dominated the action, yet at the same time J. R. built the characters of the other brothers, set the stage for the next book, and thoroughly frightened me with the overarching and eternal struggle between The Black Dagger Brotherhood and the Lessening Society. I’m a squeamish reader, and the Lessening Society’s use of torture and violence made me want to hide my eyes. But I couldn’t stop reading, and I can’t wait for Book Three, LOVE AWAKENED. I am in awe of the way J. R. Ward keeps so many balls in the air, the way she creates a paranormal world set within the real world — a world of horrible vendetta set on contemporary city streets, of vampire-warriors doomed by their determination to fight for the future of their people, and of eternal love between a woman cursed by disease and a man cursed by his own sins.
Have you read DARK LOVER and LOVER ETERNAL? What do you think sets The Black Dagger Brotherhood apart from so many other paranormals flooding the market? Is it fair to call J. R. Ward a less erotic, more multifaceted Laurell K. Hamilton?